A man claiming to be a Tesla employee raised concerns today about working conditions at the automaker’s only plant, saying workplace injuries have been persistent problems, claiming workers are underpaid compared to counterparts in the rest of the industry, and while dedicated to Tesla he feels he’s working “for a company of the future under working conditions of the past.”
“Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime,” said Jose Moran, who writes in a post on Medium that he has worked for the past four years at Tesla’s plant in Fremont, California. “The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies.”
According to Moran, that’s coming at the cost of preventable injuries that “happen often.”
In addition to long working hours, machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies. There is too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers’ input were welcomed. Add a shortage of manpower and a constant push to work faster to meet production goals, and injuries are bound to happen.
A few months ago, six out of eight people in my work team were out on medical leave at the same time due to various work-related injuries. I hear that ergonomics concerns in other departments are even more severe. Worst of all, I hear coworkers quietly say that they are hurting but they are too afraid to report it for fear of being labeled as a complainer or bad worker by management.
Moran also claims Tesla workers earn some of the lowest pay in the auto industry, which would come at a high price for the expensive cost of living that’s customary for the Bay Area.
Most Tesla production workers earn between $17 and $21 hourly. The average auto worker in the nation earns $25.58 an hour, and lives in a much less expensive region. The living wage in Alameda county, where we work, is more than $28 an hour for an adult and one child (I have two). Many of my coworkers are commuting one or two hours before and after those long shifts because they can’t afford to live closer to the plant.
While working 60–70 hours per week for 4 years for a company will make you tired, it will also make you loyal. I’ve invested a great deal of time and sacrificed important moments with my family to help Tesla succeed. I believe in the vision of our company. I want to make it better.
Moran said he feels Tesla’s management team “would agree that our plant doesn’t function as well as it could, but until now they’ve underestimated the value of listening to employees.”
“In a company of our size, an ‘open-door policy’ simply isn’t a solution,” he said. “We need better organization in the plant, and I, along with many of my coworkers, believe we can achieve that by coming together and forming a union.”
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel confirmed to Automotive News that a regional director and staff have been communicating with Tesla workers, saying: “They’re supporting the workers and talking to the workers that are interested and seeing how that interest grows.”
A spokesperson for Tesla said in a statement to Jalopnik that it has created “thousands of quality jobs here in the Bay Area” and “this is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this.”
“The safety and job satisfaction of our employees here at Tesla has always been extremely important to us,” the spokesperson said. “We have a long history of engaging directly with our employees on the issues that matter to them, and we will continue to do so because it’s the right thing to do.”
The move comes at a watershed moment for Tesla, which is gearing up to start production on the Model 3 sedan later this year.
Moran concluded, saying:
Tesla isn’t a startup anymore. It’s here to stay. Workers are ready to help make the company more successful and a better place to work. Just as CEO Elon Musk is a respected champion for green energy and innovation, I hope he can also become a champion for his employees. As more of my coworkers speak out, I hope that we can start a productive conversation about building a fair future for all who work at Tesla.
More on this as we get it.
Update: Speaking with our sister site Gizmodo via direct message on Twitter, Tesla founder Elon Musk refuted Moran’s claims and appears to throw serious shade on the employee’s intentions, while saying his company is “union-neutral.”
“Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union. He doesn’t really work for us, he works for the UAW,” Musk wrote. He added in a separate response, “Frankly, I find this attack to be morally outrageous. Tesla is the last car company left in California, because costs are so high. The UAW killed NUMMI and abandoned the workers at our Fremont plant in 2010. They have no leg to stand on.”